The natural beauty of Bulgaria is especially striking to first time visitors, and in particular it is the dominance of its magnificent mountains that make the country so visually impressive. Bulgaria's mountains come in a variety of shapes and sizes, including those that have sharp, snow-covered peaks and icy blue lakes, cool forests, and bio-reserves with varied flora and fauna. Among the heights are large ski resorts and mineral spas; quaint, traditional villages; monasteries; and many opportunities for hiking, skiing, cave exploration, and ecotourism.
More than half of Bulgaria is hilly or mountainous, with an average elevation of about 1,575ft (480m). The Balkan Mountains in the central region cross the country from west to east, the irregular Rhodope Mountains form the southeastern border with Greece, and the Rila and Pirin Mountains mark the western border. Every mountain range has its own characteristic appearance and tourism prospects.
The Rila Mountains are the most majestic and boast the country's highest peak (Moussala), Bulgaria's most famous monastery (Rila) and the country's oldest ski resort at Borovets. The greenest and prettiest mountain range is the Rhodopes, which is home to Pamporovo, the largest ski resort, as well as plenty of culture and folklore centred on the town of Momchilovtsi, which is the most popular place for ecotourism.
Museum villages in the Balkan Range also offer excellent possibilities for ecotourism and are a showcase for the hospitality and warmth of the Bulgarian people. Hundreds of lakes, deep valleys, and rugged peaks make the Pirin Mountains arguably the most beautiful, while the Pirin National Park is home to a variety of rare plants, which are protected within it. Lastly, the most frequented mountain is Vitosha, with the capital city, Sofia, at its foot. It is popular for winter holidays and skiing, as well as for hiking and picnicking in the summer.